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New normal or new dawn?

July 31, 2020

Pathmal Gunawardana   

Vice President and Head – Americas, Tata Communications

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses and individuals across the world to adapt to a ‘new normal’. In this blog, Tata Communications’ Pathmal Gunawardana, Vice President – Americas, explores how the global crisis has impacted Tata Communications and other major tech companies.

As I start writing this, even after months into the global pandemic, I still imagine readers sitting at a desk in some corporate office when, in fact, you might be in your garden, sitting room, patio, city apartment or anywhere.

“Change is as good as a rest” they say. However, most of us this year have been forced to squeeze a two-year digital transformation roadmap into just two or three weeks!  No super-computers or complex statistical models were prepared to predict what we are currently going through.

Take my position – before this crisis, my job entailed travelling at least 80% of the time. But this year, my family has probably seen me more than they’ve seen me for last 15 years. It’s a big change. It is great – except I am also aware of invading my family’s territory. Sometimes, I’m in the living room or at the kitchen counter where the kids come in and out – it’s an invasion of their private space. It’s a dilemma, but it means learning to adapt to the new normal. There is no turning back – we are at a pivotal moment in time of transition. Luckily, adapting is one of the things we humans excel at.

If that sounds too rosy, I’m sure you know, it isn’t. Learning to adapt doesn’t come easy, it requires innovative solutions, behavioural changes and above all an attitude to embrace change. Customer intimacy, industry events and roadshows, signing contracts before witnesses, etc. are examples. So, what about the overall impact on Tata Communications?

At first, it looked like the business world was clearly divided into two camps: businesses like hospitality, travel and entertainment, that were affected by social isolation, and those like social media, collaboration, cloud, and networking, that were booming. In those terms, our business has remained fully functional and our teams continue to work tirelessly to minimise any effect that the COVID-19 situation has had on our operations while maintaining our service level agreements.

From an operational point of view, we go with annual contracts, so we do not suffer rapid churn such as sudden customer cancellations in immediacy. However, we do have some customers asking for extended payment terms, re-term contracts to adapt to reduced staff and bandwidth, given the unforeseen impact caused by the pandemic on their business. As with any good partners, it’s good business practice to respect such requests and find a win-win solution. We have customers across hospitality, aviation, manufacturing, and automotive sectors that have faced a slump, and that obviously has an impact on our business too.

“As a digital ecosystem enabler, we also provide a broad range of collaboration services for remote workforce, enabling cloud, network, security services – and that part of the business is doing very well.”

The good news with Tata Communications is that along with the diverse portfolio of solutions to serve evolving needs of our customers, we have a distributed workforce worldwide and our customer service team is spread across different locations for maximum global coverage. Most of our employees are fully equipped to work from home, leveraging mobile devices and cloud-based tools, and supported by specific security processes and policies for remote working.

As regions across the world ease restrictions, we are cushioned by our widespread geographical and vertical market footprints. Telecom is a universal need. The regulatory dynamics could well change depending on social and political developments, and we will have to work through those changes.

“Ultimately, our core value proposition is anchored on customer centricity that supports customers in their digital transformation journey by enabling a holistic digital ecosystem that gives them a competitive edge in the market.”

So, in my eyes, the social, economic and political landscape may evolve but, as long as our solutions and value proposition remain strong and our customer service superior, I don’t expect major disruption to our business.

These questions have been high on my agenda since I was invited to a fascinating NetEvents Inter@ctive CIO round table discussion, chaired by IDC analyst Brad Casemore, on ‘How Networking and Collaboration Support Business Resilience and Continuity During and After Times of Crisis’.

The discussion began with interesting data points from Brad, showing what the market expected to be the key investment areas post COVID. Not surprisingly, the Cloud rode high. More significant was the changing role of working from home. Before the crisis, over 90% said less than a quarter of their work had been from home, and that fell to less than 10% since lockdown. That was hardly surprising as a response to lockdown regulations.

“What was surprising was the expectations for 2021: IDC’s research indicated that only about 40% are still expecting less than a quarter of home workers, whereas nearly as many reckoned on up to 50% workers at home, and a significant number of companies estimated more than three quarters of their employees would be working from home.”

What was encouraging among the other speakers on the discussion (seven CIOs from major tech companies) was how well they had all managed the crisis. You might have a picture from media headlines, of a business world knocked senseless by the impact of the crisis. In fact, most of the participants had already weathered severe crises of one sort or another – bushfire, hurricanes, market collapse – and had come out of it having learned sound lessons of crisis management and being prepared, of having something in reserve for the unexpected. I have already mentioned humanity’s superb ability to adapt.

Another common factor was the recognition of the importance of a ‘human-first approach’. When the pandemic struck, there were two parallel considerations: employees, and customers. The general business expectation is that ‘the customer comes first’, but in this case, the first priority was to protect and prepare the workforce. As one person put it, “If you take care of your people, they’ll take care of your customers.”

However, the new normal, as turns out, will have many faces. I wish I could write more about that very valuable discussion, but instead, I recommend that you listen to it yourself, because it covered a very great deal of ground in just over an hour. You can watch the recording of the event here.

NetEvents Inter@ctive CIO round table discussion on ‘How Networking and Collaboration Support Business Resilience and Continuity During and After Times of Crisis was organised virtually on 23rd June 2020. The panelists were:

  • Analyst Chair: Brad Casemore, Research Vice President, Datacenter Networks, IDC
  • Pathmal Gunawardana, Head of Americas, Tata Communications
  • Russ Currie, Vice President, Enterprise Strategy, NETSCOUT
  • Bill Miller, Chief Information Officer, NetApp
  • Christina Kite, Vice President, Global Business Strategy & Analytics, Oracle
  • Dan Krantz, Vice President, Chief Information Officer, Keysight Technologies, Inc.
  • Kevin Herrin, VP, Infrastructure Platform Engineering, Dell Technologies
  • Veresh Sita, Chief Digital Information Officer, F5 Networks